Science Questions

Do women have better memories than men?

Tue, 17th May 2016

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Question

Mpho asked:

Is it a fact that females have a better memory than males? I always have arguments with my wife about this because I can't remember everything that she does.

Answer

We asked neuroscientist Kate Storrs to help restore marital bliss for Mpho...Toilet sign

Kate - I love how much personal bitterness there is in this question. Itís certainly something that people believe. A recent study found that 70% of people believe that women have slightly better memories than men if you just survey popular opinion. There is a fair bit of science on it with very mixed results.

Chris - Usually it relates to how often you put the rubbish out - that kind of thing.

Kate - It certainly does depend what it is youíre trying to remember. Itís one of those situations where you want to turn to meta-analysis (big gatherings of many studies) to try and make sense of the conflicting results. One recent meta-analysis of 123 studies that had looked at verbal memory (memory of sentences and words, memory for spatial location of object, and memory for faces) found that about 60% of these studies had found slightly better performance in women and most of the remainder found no gender difference. So, there does seem to be a bit of evidence that, statistically, women might have slightly better memories but like all gender differences itís a very small effect. So this individual man and his wife are hard to be informed by the very messy science.

Chris - If there is a difference, then it must have some kind of evolutionary reason for being there. So what might be the reason itís there, if it is?

Kate - No, absolutely not. It could have a totally cultural reason. So, for example, thereís a study that found that women have better memories for faces while men have better memory for cars and, presumably, the explanation for that is just that men tend to be more interested in cars and have more prior knowledge within which to slot a new car. So, it can be total societal and cultural.

Chris - But, at the same time, can you not argue that there is a genetic element to men or boys being more interested in certain things than girls. I have a son and a daughter, and my son - I thought weíd made a breakthrough the other day because he said he was building something with some lego and it was a tower. And I thought well thatís good because itís not a weapon because everything else is a weapon. And I said whatís the tower for and he said that itís for my gun. Whereas my daughter just makes houses and draws pictures.

Kate - There most certainly are some real genetically driven cognitive differences between men and women. Even infant Macaque monkeys - the female infants -  thereís some evidence that the prefer more delicate games and more motor skill kind of games, while the boys enjoy gross motor skills smashing rocks on ground kind of games.

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It's a myth based on a trick that women learn from their mothers. In any argument a woman will insist that she remembers exactly what happened, who said what, and where she put the keys, so it was your fault, you insulted her best friend, and you must have moved the keys.

You can't win because it would be ungentlemanly to point out that she was driving at the time, she has described her so-called best friend as a loathsome hysterical moron, and you can hear the keys rattling in her handbag. And even if it was true, it wouldn't affect the cricket score.  alancalverd, Thu, 12th May 2016

Brave man Calverd; I'm very surprised that you have escaped the wrath of the female board members with that post... chris, Wed, 18th May 2016

Too busy multitasking, knitting, and having babies, perhaps. Which reminds me

Teacher: "Why can't women over 50 have babies?"

Pupil: "Because they'd put them down and forget where they left them."

Full marks for observation, Smith Minor. alancalverd, Wed, 18th May 2016

Haha might wanna watch how you word things Cal. Makes you sound bitter towards women with all that stereotyping. leohops, Sun, 24th Jul 2016

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